:: Dungeons & Dragons - The Threshold Party - The Road To Aasla ::

The Road To Aasla

Eager to put Myskuramis' Pyramid behind them, the wizards flew north, back past Druzdum's homestead to rejoin the main trail which had led south-east from the town of Adra. They flew all afternoon without stopping; by sunset Karnus' attention was drawn by sparkling in the sky. One set of sparkles was moving in a circular motion, the other set occupied a fixed position above the trail. Both comprised a multitude of colours. Squinting achieved nothing, therefore Karnus drew forth his crystal ball to observe the sparkles in greater detail. The airborn creatures noticed the trio of wizards, and closed the distance – half a dozen winged humanoids began circling several hundred feet above the carpet. Their bodies were crystalline, colourless and transparent, while their wings were a silvery metal. The creatures remained at a height, though this did nothing to allay the nerves of those travelling on the carpet below. Eventually, as they reached the town, the creatures broke off and flew back along the trail.

The town was unlike any they had seen before. A sharp contrast to the clean white stone dwellings of Goltar, here in Hady there were not only coloured doors – every structure in the town was brightly coloured, and appeared to have been carved from an enormous gemstone. Dwellings, taverns and shops alike - no two buildings matched in hue. Immense rubies, sapphires, emeralds, topaz and other gems of every colour caught the rays of the setting sun making the entire town twinkle and glow, much like the interior of a treasure chest. The newcomers exchanged incredulous looks – how could such enormous gems have been mined from the earth? Magic, no doubt, was responsible...

Passing through streets cobbled with crystals of every colour, the trio reached a square where two figures were standing by a crystal fountain – a dwarf and a gnome, both female. Teldon spoke with the gnome in Alphatian. Something prompted the gnome's surly companion to voice an expletive in the Goblin tongue. Lana's ears pricked immediately, this being one of the languages she spoke. Despite the Goblin tongue being crude and inelegant, Lana and the dwarf were able to converse. The dwarf introduced herself as Farla – she and her companion had travelled on foot from the Kingdom of Stoutfellow in the north. The terrain inbetween was mountainous and frought with perils – Farla and the gnome were the sole survivors of a much larger party. They had been spared from a gruesome fight with hippogriffs when a kindly gold dragon took pity on them, swept them up and carried them miles into safer hills within the Kingdom of Haven.

The day had been long and the companions lost no time locating the nearest inn, where they booked rooms. As ever Karnus and Teldon would share while Lana would enjoy her own private room, the costs being met by Teldon out of Duke Stefan's coffer. Assembling in the taproom the trio settled to enjoy their evening meal together. The fare was as meagre as ever – a clear broth of some sort accompanied by an assortment of thinly sliced fruits. Lana fondly recalled the hearty stew and bread Druzdum's wife had served the night before.

An underfed serving girl wearing a rope-belted tunic emerged from behind the bar carrying a tray of drinks, her skinny arms shaking under the weight of many full glasses. One tipped as she passed a table of diners, wine spilling freely onto the lap of a female wizardess. Immediately the girl shrieked with alarm, dropping the remaining drinks before freezing on the spot, covering her face with her almost-skeletal hands and arms. The woman who had been dining rose to her feet, her face bearing a dangerous expression as she surveyed the dark stain which had formed on the front of her exquisite robe. The garment was clearly expensive, depicting a sunset in delicate shades of pink and blue with bird motifs embroidered throughout. The woman's broad-shouldered male companion was already on his feet and barking words of magic. A ray of green light shot from his outstretched hand to strike the wretch squarely in the chest – her body glowed brightly then an instant later only a pile of dust remained where she had stood. A deathly hush fell across the barroom however conversation soon resumed. The innkeep emerged from the kitchen, stooping low and gushing apologies to the pair. Four golden coins changed hands, and a document was signed; having been compensated for his loss the innkeeper bid a hasty retreat back toward the kitchen. Meanwhile, a smile returned to the woman's face as she returned a wand to a fold of her robes and resumed her seat – all traces of the stain had vanished.

Karnus and Lana exchanged looks of disbelief as they pushed their plates aside, their appetites gone. Teldon too appeared dumbfounded. As much as the display they had witnessed might be the accepted norm in a land such as Alphatia, the affair seemed unconscionable and had offended each of their morals. They sought alternative lodgings for the night.

The next day's flying proved uneventful. As the sun was beginning its descent Lana brought down the carpet in the town of Aram and lodgings were again sought. The party's first choice was full – seemingly the most popular in town, going by the revelry going on within. Instead the roadweary wizards retreated to a less well-to-do establishment where many labourers were enjoying meals. All three breathed a happy sigh – at least here their evening meal would be substantial for a change.

Half-way through dining the inn's door flew open, and a robed man strode in purposefully, gazing around as if in desperation. Unconcerned of the spectacle he was making, the wizard called to those dining, passion audible in his words.

"Whatever is he on about?" asked Karnus.

"He's asking the same question over and over," Teldon muttered, more concerned with fishing a fly out of his wine. "Where is she, where is she?"

"Where's who?' Lana asked, her mouth stuffed with bread.

One of the townsfolk appeared to have asked the man the same question; Teldon translated the man's impassioned response, his tone still nonchalant. "The barbaric beauty who descended from the sky, apparently."

Karnus choked on the chicken leg he had been gnawing, and his spluttering drew immediate attention. Lana froze in mid-chew, her cheeks bulging unglamorously. Noticing her, the man gave a cry and lurched in her direction. Lana's eyes grew wide with apprehension. Instinctively she reached for the Staff of Lucinius though it had been resting placidly against the table. This alone reassured her that the man did not mean her any immediate harm.

The newcomer seized Lana by the shoulders, still gabbling aloud in Alphatian, then clasped her hands in the style of an opera performance Lana had once viewed in Glantri City.

"You must come, you must come," Teldon translated lazily. "I am the great Trelleremy, you will be my muse, together we will transmute your beauty into a new form, we must pay homage to the Arts through my craft, so on so forth." Although Teldon did not say as much, Lana felt from the urgency in Trelleremy's words that she would have little say in what followed.

Karnus remained in the barroom while Lana and Teldon were escorted upstairs to a private room for Trelleremy to commence his work. He drew an array of wands from the belt at his waist, laid these on a table then selected just one. Spreading his arms while reciting an incantation, a mass of stone materialised in the room's centre, its surfaces smooth as if polished. A further enchantment followed, turning the stone a delicate shade of green. Trelleremy set to work with his wand, tapping here and there, causing small sections to vanish. Hours passed and a vaguely humanoid shape began to emerge. Trelleremy spent most of his time pacing from one end of the room to the other, complaining about the loss of light among other annoyances. Lana grew tired, realising that if she did not sleep she would be unable to learn new spells in the morning. Clearing her throat, she indicated through gestures that she needed to leave. An exasperated look crossed the man's face before he commanded Lana to return in the morning. Through Teldon, Lana politely explained that she had indulged the man, but could spare no more time – their mission required them to leave at first light. Trelleremy did not appear to even listen, repeating that he expected her to return. Feeling entirely at cross-purposes, Teldon and Lana rejoined Karnus in the barroom for a while then retired to their respective rooms for the night.

Next morning, the three wizards descended to the barroom and after breakfast prepared to leave. As had been feared, Trelleremy appeared in the inn's doorway, barring them from leaving. Teldon spoke with the man, his grandfatherly charade lapsing as he spoke of the significance of their mission and how they could not tarry – none of this was mattered to Trelleremy. The Alphatian artist thought only of his Art and his calling, and attempted to prevent Lana's departure. She too tried to reason with the man, but achieved nothing. The Staff of Lucinius now grew agitated, pulsing in Lana's grasp to alert her to the man's harmful intentions. As he began an incantation, Karnus stepped forward having called to mind the enchantment Myskuramis had taught him two days before. As a beam of magic emitted from Trelleremy's hand it met a sparkling field of magic between the two parties, and rebounded on its caster. Trelleremy's body stiffened, capturing a look of utter bewilderment on his face. Teldon and Lana applauded Karnus' quick response, admiring the irony of the man's temporary incapacitation. The 'turned' Holding spell would give them at least an hour’s headstart on Trelleremy, if he did try to give chase. They wasted no time and departed town.

Going by the map Teldon had purchased, Aram was the last major settlement on the way to Aasla. The companions resigned themselves to the likelihood that they would need to camp in the countryside. As the carpet sped along, it began to buffet as though someone were jumping up and down. Looking behind her, Lana saw Karnus and Teldon sitting still though they too felt the effect. At the same time, a high-pitched chattering sound could be heard. Acting on impulse, Lana murmured an incantation and passed a hand in front of her eyes – causing a number of outlines to become visible. A dozen or so pixies were seated on her carpet, kicking their legs off the sides – a couple being so bold as to pull on the tassles. The same number were flying alongside the carpet, bearing miniature weapons as their gossamer wings beat hard to keep the tiny humanoids aloft. Smiling, Lana conversed with one of the pixies in Elvish, asking where they were headed. The pixies claimed that they were not all from a single point of origin, but had assembled from across the Kingdom to answer the call of a druid to the far north. This druid's chosen domain – the Ivory Forest – had come under attack by the undead. The Karameikans' suspicions were roused – they had been pursued across the Sea of Dawn by the undead, therefore there was a chance these events might be connected. It was decided however that the Ivory Forest was too far away to warrant investigation – the trio were already allowing themselves the distraction of investigating Aasla, and could only hope this indulgence would not delay their principal mission to any harmful degree. They wished the pixies well, waved them on their way and turned the carpet in the direction of the coast which had now come into view.

A short distance later a group of bandits were lying in wait to ambush the trio, however Karnus admonished their leader using his unique brand of persuasion, and the wizards were left in peace.

The wizards flew on their carpet along a coastal road inlaid with an assortment of tiles, depicting colourful scenes and motifs. The carpet's height off the ground enabled the trio to appreciate the mosaic designs moreso that a traveller on foot would have been able to. The vista out over the bay to the right hand side of the road was the most breathtaking panorama either Karnus or Lana had ever beheld, encircling a wide expanse of azure sea. Not all the scene was aesthetic, as their destination finally loomed into view. The walls of Aasla still stood but were in blackened ruins – everything beyond was utter desolation.

Read the next instalment – The Burned City of Aasla

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